You may not know Miatta David Johnson and Massah David by name, but you've probably seen their work. The sisters, who helm MVD Inc., have created events for stars like Mary J. Blige and Common and thrown big Grammy weekend parties.
ESSENCE spoke to the pair, who shared tips for throwing great parties, how their Liberian roots influence their work, and what they learned from their first big event.
ESSENCE: What's it like running a business with your sister and how do you two tackle projects?
Massah: Running a business as siblings can be challenging because we have our personal relationship. What makes it work for us is that there's a certain respect and we're able to identify each other's strengths. Where I lack, or Miatta lacks, is filled in. And, once you have a level of respect it's much easier to run a business together.
ESSENCE: How do you separate your work from your personal lives?
Miatta: We had to learn how to separate business and hanging out. People that know us know that we are close. People even think that we could be twins. For me, it's very hard to turn off. Massah is the total opposite. She respects her personal space and her personal time. There would be times during weekends where I'd try to call her to talk business and she would shut me down, "This is my personal time." She taught me that it's extremely important to have that differentiation because that's how people burn out.
ESSENCE: That's true. It's important to create that work-life balance to make sure you're taking care of yourself. How do you two do that?
Miatta: I love meditating and love yoga, but it's actually very hard for me to de-stress and unwind.
Massah: I like to escape. I hibernate and create my own little space at home. I listen to music, watch movies, sketch, and just decompress.
ESSENCE: Something I love is that you're two black female leaders in a space that not a lot of black women are recognized in. To you, what does it mean to be a leader in entertainment and marketing?
Massah: For me, being a leader means setting your own path and, to a certain extent, going against the grain. We're not really interested in doing what everyone else is doing. We're more concerned with creating trends. To me, that's the most important thing, not getting caught up in what everyone else is doing.
ESSENCE: Do you feel that your Liberian roots influence the work that you do, how you do things, your drive to do things?
Miatta: I think so. I think that because of our upbringing and our Liberian roots the work ethic that we have we've learned from our parents and our family. It was extremely important we understood that anything you want in this world you have to work hard for—ten times as hard if you're a woman. I think our parents worked hard to ingrain that in us, making sure that we understood that having a work ethic is extremely important and having integrity in everything that you do is extremely important. I would definitely attribute that to our upbringing.
ESSENCE: What was the first big event the two of you worked on and what did you learn from that experience?
Massah: It was probably a GOOD music event. It also may have been Kanye's birthday or one of the album release events. And, we learned that we have our strengths—definitely on the creative end, coming up with contacts and working closely with clients to bring their vision to light. Miatta is amazing with structure, making sure that we're remaining within budget and we're being realistic.
Miatta: And, that was the first time that people ... a few years ago, folks didn't really embrace rappers, especially in the fashion world. We basically shut down Fifth Avenue. And, dealing with the permits and the idea of what people thought it was gonna be—given that we are two black females producing an event on Fifth Avenue for a rapper—they had no idea, we dispelled all those myths and broke through.
ESSENCE: Was that one of your favorite events or is there another?
Miatta: I think my absolute favorite event has to be Toast to the Arts. We do this event with Common and his management team, we've been doing it for the past four years. It's basically a homecoming, a reunion, for a lot of the African-American filmmakers and producers in Hollywood. Common explained what he wanted to create in this space. We collaborated with him and brought it to life. I would say it's magical. From the atmosphere to the people that attend to what we see as events in Hollywood now, it's definitely one of our favorites.
ESSENCE: So, how did you get started in this space?
Miatta: I think we got started in school. We threw parties and events in high school. It wasn't looked at as something that we would actually turn into a business until quite a few years later. We enjoyed it, putting together birthday parties and graduation parties, but we didn't look at it as a profession until many years later.
ESSENCE: For anybody who wants to throw the perfect party, the perfect event, what are three basic rules?
Massah: For me, the three basic must-know rules are: be prepared for the unexpected, have a budget in mind and try to stick as close to it as possible, and, for me, what probably would be important is the guest experience. I try to step outside myself and really think about what a guest might experience.
ESSENCE: What's been your biggest challenge and what advice would you have for someone who wants to enter this industry?
Miatta: The biggest challenge in this space is when you're building large-scale events, you're competing against other major companies. Quite a few are male. You have to not only go above and beyond but be meticulous. You also have to be very, very aggressive with always learning and understanding your business. A lot of people think that once you enter into a field and you start working that's pretty much it. You have to constantly make sure that you're perfecting your skill, learning new skills, understanding trends, understanding what's going on in your industry.
ESSENCE: What's ahead for you two in 2018? Do you have a bucket list?
Miatta: We're working on a project that we can't speak about just yet It's in the film space, so you'll hear about it in a few months. Things on the bucket list...continuing to work with some of the tech giants in the industry. We currently work with Samsung NEXT and we're exploring working with other tech giants. I think we're enjoying that space because it's become an industry that's not afraid to push the envelope and try different things. Everything is about technology and being able to do exciting stuff in that space is really going to be fun.